Google is already on its 11th series of Pixel phones (when you include the budget-friendly A-series), but each one seems to have had some sort of quality control issue. The Pixel 7 aims to put it all together, and Google may have finally pulled it off.
It’s true, the Pixel series has featured plenty of weird hardware defects and software bugs. From faulty USB-C ports, lawsuits over microphones, and not being able to call 911 with Microsoft Teams installed (what?), Google has rarely released a neat and polished smartphone experience.
I’ve been using the Pixel 7 (the smaller of the two Pixel 7 flagship phones) for just under two weeks. It quickly became apparent that this experience was a little different than past Pixels I’ve used. Did Google finally release a no-compromise Pixel phone, and at a great price to boot?
Hardware: Lookin’ Sharp
- Display: 6.3-inch (160.5mm), FHD+ (1080 x 2400) OLED, 90Hz refresh rate, 416 PPI
- Build materials: Corning Gorilla Glass Victus front and back glass, aluminum frame
- Security: In-display optical fingerprint sensor, Face Unlock
- Ports: USB-C 3.2 Gen 2
- Water/dust resistance: IP68
- Dimensions: 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3-inches (155.6 x 73.2 x 8.7mm)
- Weight: 197g (6.9oz)
The Pixel 7 features Google’s second design “reboot” of the Pixel phone series. First was the shift from the two-tone look to the offset square camera bump, and now we’re firmly in the horizontal camera bar era, started by last year’s Pixel 6 series.
I would describe the design as “friendly futuristic.” Google has managed to walk the line between looking super techy but still warm and inviting. Plus, even with a case, the phone is unmistakably a Pixel. Or, perhaps more importantly, not an iPhone. Despite being $400-500 less than other flagship phones, the Pixel 7 feels and looks like a premium, high-end smartphone.
There’s actually a practical benefit to this design as well. I don’t like how some phones with off-center camera bumps wobble when you’re typing with them lying flat on a table. That doesn’t happen with the Pixel 7. It obviously doesn’t lie flat, but it’s evenly supported across the back.
The one thing I don’t love about the Pixel 7’s design is the sharp(ish) corners of the display. Technically, the Pixel 7 is not much bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S22, but the sharper corners make it feel substantially bigger. Heavily rounded corners like those on the Galaxy S22 and iPhones have the benefit of making it slightly easier to reach more of the screen with one hand.
Speaking of the display, the Pixel 7’s is 6.3-inches with a 2,400 x 1,080 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate. I have absolutely no issue with a flagship phone “only” having a 90Hz 1080p display. That’s enough for me and I think that applies to most people. Everything is crisp and bright, the colors look great, and motion is smooth and consistent. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.
I hope Google sticks with this “friendly futuristic” design language for a while. It really suits the vibe of what the Pixel experience is all about.
Fingerprint Scanner: Actually Good?
Google equipped the Pixel 7 with an in-display fingerprint scanner again this year. I was a bit worried about that since the in-display fingerprint scanner on the Pixel 6 series was not well received, and I think they’re generally pretty bad anyway.
The Pixel 7 has new hardware for the fingerprint sensor and the software has allegedly been better optimized to work with it. I’m on record as being very disappointed in under-display fingerprint scanners in general, but this one is not terrible. I actually don’t mind using it, which is more than I can say for the ones I’ve used in the past. The scanner is still the less-secure optical type, though.
I still wouldn’t consider it better than an “old-fashioned” physical fingerprint scanner—it’s much less forgiving if my finger isn’t placed perfectly. When it does work, it’s very fast. The Pixel 7 also has pretty good Face Unlock, but—as is typical with Android devices—it’s less secure and can’t be used to authenticate payments.
Android 13 and You
- Operating system (when reviewed): Android 13 (October 5, 2022 security update)
- Software updates: 3 years OS updates, 5 years security updates
Software is a big reason why people opt for Pixel phones over the competition, so let’s talk about that. The Pixel 7 comes with Android 13 and Google’s own Pixel UI on top. It’s a much simpler approach to Android than something like Samsung’s One UI.
The crown jewel of the Pixel UI is the “Material You” theming. The lock screen, Quick Settings, system apps, and many third-party apps get their color schemes from your wallpaper. Technically, you can do this on Samsung phones running Android 13 too, but it really shines on Pixel phones.
Everyone has different tastes, but for my money, the Pixel UI with Material You is the best Android has ever looked. It feels like this is what Android has been building up to for years. A truly personal experience without requiring all the effort of deep customization.
I described the hardware design as “friendly futuristic,” and that applies to the software as well. Pixel UI has a very clean, modern look to it, but it’s also helpful and sort of playful. You feel like you’re using something that’s a couple of years newer than the current iterations of One UI or iOS.
We’ll talk about camera hardware and performance later, but the camera app has received a slight refresh. The current camera mode is displayed more clearly in the top left corner now. Night Sight shows a handy countdown timer while taking a photo. Google’s camera app has long been one of my favorites and these little improvements make it even better.
The other big benefit of Google’s flavor of Android is fast updates. The Pixel 7 will be the first to get Android 14 when that comes out in 2023, and it will get fast monthly security updates as well. Sadly, Google doesn’t support its Pixel phones as long as Samsung does. You get three years of OS updates and five years of security patches.
When people ask me which Android phone they should buy, I generally recommend Pixel phones, and the software experience is a huge reason why. It’s not cluttered with more features than you can possibly use, and the look is modern while still being accessible.
Cameras: Still Great, But…
- Primary camera: 50MP Octa PD Quad Bayer wide camera, ƒ/1.85 aperture, 82-degree field of view
- Secondary camera: 12MP ultrawide, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 114-degree field of view
- Front-Facing Camera: 10.8MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 92.8-degree field of view
- Video recording: 4K30, 4K60, 1080p30, 1080p60 FPS, Slow-mo up to 240fps
- Optical and electronic image stabilization
It’s time to talk about the crowing jewel of the Pixel series—cameras. Google has hung its hat on camera performance since the very first Pixel, and it continues to push the limits. The Pixel 7 has the same main 50MP camera as last year’s Pixel 6. It’s joined by a 12MP wide-angle camera on the rear and a 10.8MP selfie camera up front.
Frankly, I love taking photos with the Pixel 7. Some people may prefer to do their own manual editing, but I like that Pixel photos are more or less ready to be shared right away. Colors are vibrant without looking oversaturated. Night Sight is still the best night mode I’ve used—and the fastest. I have found myself taking a lot more photos since getting the Pixel 7.
One particular area of the camera that I’ve been impressed with is the focus. The Pixel 7 is very good at locking on the subject you select. With some phones, the focus is lost if you move around too much, but I haven’t noticed that as much with the Pixel 7. It’s especially impressive with moving subjects in videos.
Rear-Facing Cameras Samples
As you may have noticed, the Pixel 7 does not have a telephoto zoom lens, which has become standard on many flagship phones. However, Google is doing something new this year. The “2x” button in the camera app is not just digital zoom. The 50MP camera has a sensor crop mode that uses the 12MPs at the center of the sensor to provide a full resolution, 2x zoom photo. This works surprisingly well in the absence of a true zoom lens.
The front-facing camera has been upgraded to a 10.8MP sensor and it has a wider 92.8-degree field of view. Google’s camera software magic makes selfies from the Pixel 7 look great, and the wider field of view is much appreciated for group selfies. This was an overdue update for the front camera.
Historically, Portrait Mode with Pixel cameras has been very good, but the competition seems to have caught up. The Pixel 7’s Portrait Mode is noticeably not on the same level as my Galaxy S22. I’ve thrown some pretty complex shots at the Galaxy S22’s Portrait Mode and it has performed flawlessly, whereas the Pixel 7 has struggled even in simple conditions.
Front-Facing Camera Samples
Speaking of Portrait Mode, Google added a new “Cinematic” video mode this year. It’s essentially Portrait Mode for videos, and it records in a “more cinematic” 24fps. I haven’t had much luck with this mode (sample video), but I can’t say any other phone is doing it much better. It’s not a mode I see myself using very often.
Regular videos, though, look really good (sample video). The combination of optical image stabilization (OIS) and electronic image stabilization (EIS) is stellar. The aforementioned impressive focus abilities are great. The camera had no trouble keeping up with my son running around like a madman. You can even record HDR videos if you have a screen that can display them correctly.
“Photo Unblur” is a new software feature that comes with the Pixel 7’s camera. It aims to do exactly what it says—“unblur” blurry photos. You can use it on any photo, not just those taken with the Pixel 7. When it works well, it’s downright amazing, and pretty fun to use on old photos. The “Magic Eraser” feature is still here too, and it’s also amazing when it works well.
Camera quality has long been one of the main reasons why I recommend Pixel phones, and the Pixel 7 continues that tradition. It’s certainly not the clear-cut best-in-class camera experience on a smartphone anymore, but there’s nothing to dislike here. It’s good camera hardware and exceptional camera software.
Performance: No Worries
- CPU: Google Tensor G2, Titan M2 security coprocessor
- RAM: 8 GB LPDDR5
- Storage: 128 GB / 256 GB UFS 3.1 storage, no microSD expansion
The Pixel 7 is Google’s third series to feature its own Tensor processor. I had not used a Tensor-powered Pixel phone until the Pixel 7 and I’ve been very impressed.
My point of reference for performance is the Samsung Galaxy S22, which has the latest processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. In my real-world experience, the Pixel 7 feels faster than the Galaxy S22 in some areas.
While some chips are geared toward gaming and other resource-intensive activities, the Tensor chip is more about practicality. Some of the biggest benefits can be seen in daily life tasks, such as voice-to-text dictation and installing apps from the Play Store. The Pixel 7 blows away every other device I’ve used when it comes to accurate and fast voice typing. Plus, the Pixel 7 can now suggest emoji when voice typing.
The area where you may notice the best performance upgrade is the camera. Effects like Portrait Mode and Night Sight are applied very quickly, and photo editing is a breeze. There’s nothing more annoying than a laggy camera app when you’re trying to snap a quick photo or video. I’ve certainly had issues with that on the Galaxy S22, but not the Pixel 7.
The Pixel 7 may not wow you if you’re looking for pure, raw performance power, but that’s not really what Google is shooting for. This isn’t a processor made to get the best scores in a benchmark. Its power is focused on the things most people need for their day-to-day tasks, and that’s a microcosm of what the Pixel experience is all about.
Battery Life: It’s Okay
- Battery size: 4,355 mAh
- Max charging speed: 30W
- Wireless Charging and Battery Power Share
The area of performance that I haven’t been particularly amazed by is battery life. I can usually get through a day just fine, but I’ve had to plug in the charger before bedtime on days with more heavy usage. An average day for me is off the charger for around 16 hours and about four hours of screen time.
The Pixel 7 is certainly not a battery beast, but it seems adequate for a phone of this size, especially taking my higher-than-usual usage habits into consideration. The lower power draw of a 1080p display with a 90Hz refresh rate helps with that. Google claims the Pixel 7 series can “last over 24 hours”—maybe that’s true for the Pixel 7 Pro, but I’m not seeing it for the smaller model.
Phone Calls: Loud and Clear
It’s easy to forget that a smartphone is still a phone. Making and receiving phone calls is a core component of the experience. I had a few phone calls with the Pixel 7 and I was always able to hear the other person clearly, and I was told I sounded good too.
The Pixel 7 will eventually get a “Clear Calling” feature that uses machine learning to filter out background noise, but it’s not available at the time of this review. You can listen to the two audio clips below to get a taste of the microphone quality. The first clip is in a quiet room and the second clip has some background noise to filter out.
Mic Test Without Background Noise
Mic Test With Background Noise
Pixel 7 vs Pixel 7 Pro
As per usual, Google released two versions of the Pixel 7. The two devices have more in common than not, but the Pixel 7 Pro has a few notable upgrades you should know about if you’re deciding between the two.
The most noticeable difference is the size. The Pixel 7 Pro has a larger 6.7-inch display, which has a higher QHD+ resolution and 120Hz refresh rate. That bigger footprint also allows for a bigger 5,000 mAh battery. Both devices have the Tensor G2 chip, but the Pro model has 12GB of RAM and can go up to 512GB of storage.
The two devices have the same cameras, but the Pixel 7 Pro has an extra 48MP telephoto lens. That allows it to go up to 10x full-resolution zoom with the same sensor crop technique. The 7 Pro also uses the telephoto camera for a new “Macro” mode that’s not present on the standard Pixel 7.
Essentially, the Pixel 7 Pro offers a bigger display, bigger battery, extra camera, and more RAM for $300 more than the Pixel 7.
Google Pixel 7 Pro
A Pixel 7 with a bigger display, bigger battery, extra telephoto camera, and more RAM for an extra $300.
Should You Buy the Google Pixel 7?
It would be an exaggeration to call the Google Pixel 7 a “perfect” smartphone. There are some areas where it clearly doesn’t stack up to the competition. However, for only $599, it’s really hard not to recommend the Pixel 7. The number of actual complaints I have—not just knit-picks—is almost zero.
So far, the Pixel 7 doesn’t seem to have any of those weird issues mentioned at the top. It’s been rock solid in my experience. If you’ve been holding out for Google to put all the pieces together, the Pixel 7 is the Pixel you’ve been waiting for.
Ironically, the Pixel 7 is almost the mirror opposite of the Pixel Watch. The Pixel Watch underdelivers for its high price tag, while the Pixel 7 is a phenomenal device that also happens to be considerably cheaper than other flagship phones. Google is at its best when it works in this mid-premium territory. The Pixel 7 is more proof of that.
With the Pixel 7, you’re getting a device that has excellent cameras, beautiful software with fast updates, a solid in-display fingerprint scanner, great performance for your daily tasks, the best Google experience, and a premium feeling build and design for only $600. Pixel-perfect maybe not, but dang close.
Google Pixel 7
- Beautiful, premium-feeling design
- Excellent camera quality
- Great value at $599
- Pixel UI and Material You is Android at its best
- Battery life is just okay
- Portrait Mode really struggles sometimes